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You are here: /main/research/NOWRAMP 2002/journals/Midway wrecks /


Ship Logs

Wreck Sites Midway Atoll
Posted by Dr. Hans Van Tilburg, Maritime Archaeology and History Team Leader
Photos by Dr. Hans Van Tilburg
September 22, 2002

Stern section of the Macaw.Due to the several phases of Midway's historical past, this atoll is "target-rich" in terms of submerged cultural resources. The historic anchorage of Wells Harbor contains the remains of vessels such as the General Seigel and the Wandering Minstrel. Unexploded ordnance line the northern Atoll region, along with the remains of "reef hotel." In the main south channel lie the wrecks of the submarine rescue vessel USS Macaw, at Sand Island, Midway's main island. These are some of the more well known wrecks. We focused on ordnance, the Macaw, and the Carrollton during our brief stay at Midway.

The Macaw (ASR-11) grounded in 1944 during the rescue of the USS Flier. On February 13th, during heavy weather, the ship began to capsize on the reef. The captain and crew abandoned ship in the middle of the night in 30-foot seas; five died. The vessel was a total loss, and the decision was later made to blast apart the superstructure in order to clear the channel. Seventy-four meters of twisted wreckage now lies along the bottom, though the bow in shallower water is relatively intact. How to document such a huge site quickly? We shot video from above and take measurements on the bottom; images printed from these data will create a color wreck jigsaw puzzle. Numerous fish and invertebrates find shelter all over the site.

Pump wheels from the Carrollton.The Carrollton sunk in 1906 while carrying coal from Australia to San Francisco. Typical of wooden ship wreck sites, all exposed hull and superstructure have vanished. But the heavier elements (anchor, chain, stanchions, fasteners, deck machinery, donkey boiler, lead scuppers, pintles and gudgeons etc.) remain scattered in an area near the reef. The closer we look into the holes and crevices, the more artifacts we find. Photo documentation along with survey tapes and slates give us a rough plan of this site in reasonably short time. Again, the confused path of the anchor chain on the bottom adds to the story of the wreck. The chain locker, its wooden sides long gone, is now a fused mass of iron almost indistinguishable from reef. The windlass has grown corals. The ship remains will ultimately be "recycled" as reef substrate in this fashion.

Carrollton note: coal is scattered along the reef, and appears all over nearby Spit island as well. The ship delivered its cargo, but to the wrong destination.

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